The Gulf coast of Florida seems to attract mid-westerners more than any other parts of the state that I have visited. That’s OK with me since the people I meet from Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois are very friendly in general. There are also a lot of people here from Western Ontario, Canada, which is directly north of some of these states and they seem to share the same good manners. The few New Yorkers I do meet are generally from central or western NY. I think is a common trait among these people to be friendly, but they also drive slower than I am accustomed to and they have far more patience with the long lasting and often pointless red lights. I wish the Manatee County and city highway departments would install devices to detect whether cars are actually near or waiting at an intersection. I spend far too much time waiting for red lights when there are no cars present at all. The Mid westerners don’t seem to mind this nearly as much as I do. My attitude is that most of the people here, including me, are already old and I for one, don’t want to waste my limited remaining time sitting at an intersection. I have better things to do, while the sand in my hourglass of life is draining!
The East Coast of Florida seems to attract far more people from NY, VT, MA, NJ and further north from Montreal and the rest of Quebec. One might think that since I am a born and bred easterner, I would prefer the east coast, but I don’t. To the locals we are all just Yankees.
Now that I have lived in the Tampa area for the past 8 or 9 winters, I have made a few local friends who have lived here for generations. Native Floridians are pretty interesting but few people from anywhere, are as interesting as my friends Willie and Richard. Both are serious horticulturalists and I am attracted to people who love plants as much as I do. Willie is 74 years old and a true Florida “cracker” as he refers to himself. My daughter tells me that the term “cracker” is offensive to some, because it refers to white people using bull whips on black people. Willie tells me that historically “crackers” were cowboys who use bull whips on their cattle, not on people and he also tells me there are as almost as many black cowboys as white. Most northerners don’t know just how big the cattle industry is in the sunshine state, but it is still huge, perhaps trailing only Texas in cattle ranching. To Willie, anybody from north of Georgia is a “Yankee,” white or black.
Willie has operated a citrus grove, right in middle of the city of Bradenton since the early 1960’s. Sadly, the greening disease has wiped out almost all his citrus trees while another devastating disease has wiped out his native, Florida avocado trees. Nevertheless, he continues to grow some lemons, limes, pumelo, Macadamia nuts, pineapples, mangos, papaya, and a host of other interesting fruit that I had never tasted before I met him.
A couple of years ago I tasted some Lychee fruit right off one of his trees and they were wonderful! Last summer I tried some black sapote fruit he grew, which tastes almost exactly like chocolate pudding. I love chocolate pudding! These fruit are closely related to persimmons, which he also grows. Interestingly my neighbor in Conesville, NY also grows persimmons, 1500 miles north of here. Willie is waiting on a frost which the persimmons need to become sweet. My neighbor’s persimmons got that treatment back in October!
Yesterday, I tried perhaps the sweetest fruit I have ever tasted called “sugar apples” aka “sweetsop.” These strange looking fruit, resemble an Osage orange or a small human brain, but the flesh tastes like the sweetest pear imaginable. Willie grows only a few of these, but they are remarkable! I don’t know if any of these fruit are available up north and I doubt if that is the case since the soft fruit don’t appear to be shippable. If you happen to get to Florida or some other tropical destination this winter, it would be worthwhile to seek out these fruit at a farmer’s market or a roadside stand.
I may be old, but I am always ready to try something new and interesting, if it comes my way! In a future column, I will tell you about Richard. He grows pomegranates, figs and mushrooms!